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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

“Respect every opponent, but fear none.”

This quote by John Wooden reflects his definition of confidence: “Respect without fear may come from being prepared and keeping all things in proper perspective.”

The details of Coach Wooden’s approach to competition are worth reviewing, given the results he achieved. He put it this way:

I don’t think you could find any player to tell you that I mentioned winning. I wanted winning to be the byproduct of the preparation, and failure to prepare is preparing to fail.

I always wanted them to have that satisfaction within themselves, that peace of mind within themselves, that they made the effort to execute near their own particular level of competency, not trying to be better than someone else but being the best that they could be.

One of my players, a very interesting person (I’m sure some of you have heard of Bill Walton), once said that when we were dressing for a game, they had to send a manager to get a program to find out who we were playing, because I never mentioned the opposition.

I wanted the emphasis placed on the improvement of ourselves.

Related: Competitive Greatness Isn’t About Winning

Coach created a consistent level of respect for all opponents by the consistent excellent effort he demanded in practice every week, whether the next opponent was the last place team in the league or the number two team in the country.

There was no hype around the idea that, “We really have to step it up this week, we’re playing so-and-so and they’re really good.” In fact, there was no mention of the names of the upcoming opponents. This eliminates fear and anxiety.

Coach did not want the players wondering, Hope this game plan works.

Coach also demonstrated respect for his opponents by constantly trying to learn new things in his craft. He was a voracious reader of basketball publications and a great networker who was constantly getting new ideas from all of the coaches with whom he came in contact.

He had a basic understanding of the strategy his upcoming opponent might employ. For example, if his team was likely to play against a zone defense, he might do some extra work against a zone defense without lengthening practice or mentioning the purpose of the work to the players. Eliminate fear.

Coach had an awareness of the competition and an ongoing strategy of learning from others.

The main goal, however, was constant improvement of his own team, not implementing new strategies to counteract what an upcoming opponent might do.

The players were not worried about the competition. They we were on the hook for one thing: their execution and effort.

Consistent excellence can be achieved when we respect every opponent, but fear none.

Related: Don’t Try to Be Better Than Someone Else; Try to Be the Very Best You Can Be

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.